B.C. refocuses on business with Hong Kong with eye on Chinese ‘Greater Bay’ megalopolis

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B.C. is renewing its focus on its trade and investment relationship with Hong Kong just as the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) is embarking on an unprecedented plan to integrate with surrounding Mainland Chinese cities to form a massive economic zone.

The formation of what the Chinese government calls the “Great Bay Area,” which includes two of the world’s most-populated metropolitan areas (Guangzhou, at 25 million; Shenzhen, at 23.3 million), means that integration-related infrastructure like high-speed rail and cross-bay bridges are being planned and built at breakneck speeds.

B.C. State of Trade Minister George Chow said the province, with its with strong ties to Hong Kong, should be in a good position to capitalize.

“I see Hong Kong as a gateway for us into the Great Bay region,” Chow said Wednesday in Vancouver after the provincial government hosted a roundtable discussion on B.C.’s new opportunities on the Pearl River Delta. “It’s a region with a tremendous potential, an economic zone of 66 million people and generating one-third of China’s GDP. So it’s obviously a very important market for us to be involved in.”

Derrick Lee, B.C.’s new Hong Kong trade and investment representative, joined Chow at the Vancouver roundtable discussions. Lee noted that while the Great Bay Area plan is still taking shape in its goal of linking 11 large cities together, B.C. businesses cannot think of doing business in Hong Kong in the traditional sense.

“When you are exporting and you think Hong Kong, you can no longer think about just Hong Kong,” Lee said. “You have to also consider what markets Hong Kong is directly connected to.… While this is a new initiative – and we are still sorting out where the advantages are for B.C. – we will start seeing the Chinese pursue project-specific deals soon, and then we will be able to see more concrete areas of gains for us.”

As such, B.C. is actively working with groups like the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council in getting more contact with Hong Kong as it deepens its economic integration of Chinese economic initiatives, Lee said. The main event will be the Belt and Road Summit in Hong Kong on June 28, where high-level talks between global economic leaders will likely spin-off into a number of opportunities in sectors like sustainable technology, agrifoods, government procurement, machinery and natural resources.

Chow said B.C. is also looking at Seafood Expo Asia, held in Hong Kong Sept. 4-6, to further deepen the reach of local seafood in Asia. Seafood was the fourth-largest export from Canada to Hong Kong last year, with trade valued at $69.7 million – behind only gold, $289.7 million; pharmaceutical/cosmetic plant parts, $213.3 million; and frozen beef, $149.6 million. He added that Hong Kong’s plan of a tech-focused Great Bay Area – some observers tout it as China’s answer to the Silicon Valley – as another potential opportunity for B.C.

Lee said it is imperative for B.C. players in Hong Kong to join forces with federal and other provincial representatives, since the competition is fierce; he noted that the European Union and Australia have been particularly aggressive in pushing into the Hong Kong/South China market.

“We need to work with other Canadian stakeholders to elevate Canada’s brand in Hong Kong,” Lee said. “Then, we can find the opportunities within that effort to differentiate the B.C. brand… but local businesses need to talk to us. They need to reach out and let us know they want to participate, because we have the resources to help you.”